Reposting from May 2022: John Wijngaards: We need a more democratic process of electing bishops.

John Wijngaards is founder of the UK-based Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research, writing in the Irish Times:

Pope Francis has unleashed a synodal process of consultations in the Catholic Church. It offers opportunities for effective change. It may also prove a failure. Over recent months, I have heard many sceptical voices. “By providing guiding documents the curia is steering discussions away from the real issues.” “It will all just amount to talk.” “Nothing will really change.”

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  1. Paddy Ferry says:

    Reposting from May 2022: John Wijngaards: We need a more democratic process of electing bishops.

    Link to Comments on original post – scroll down page to Comments:

    From Paddy Ferry:
    Calling Joe and Seán.
    When the old format of this site changed — God be with the old days — Joe, you and I were discussing Apostolic succession and priesthood and Seán was thinking about sacrifice.
    I looked forward to continuing our conversation but, I expect, neither of you actually saw what I wrote immediately before the old order changed. I now share again below.
    I hope you are both well.
    Paddy Ferry writes:
    John Wijngaards: We need a more democratic process of electing bishops.
    Joe@14, thank you for such a comprehensive and prompt reply to my “bunch of juicy topics”. I have often wondered how long it takes you to produce stuff like this. Even when I have the knowledge in my head it can take ages due to my slow, elementary computer keyboard skills.
    When I read Raymond Brown’s Priest and Bishop I was already aware of his views on apostolic succession so I expected him just to be just as frank and uncompromising on the origins of priesthood. But, of course, he isn’t. Around the time I was reading Priest and Bishop I met the aforementioned Tom O’Loughlin who had come to Edinburgh to speak at our Newman Association and I shared my surprise with him having just read the book. Tom explained to me that Raymond was teaching in seminary guiding young men towards ordination so you would hardly expect him to be anything but positive about the origins of our priesthood.
    If I now remember correctly in the book he seems to be of the opinion that only Paul was worth his salt as an apostle and he wasn’t even one of the twelve.
    You mention Hebrews and Melchizedek, Joe, and I have read a bit around their significance. I read somewhere where it was said that St. Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews was not written by St. Paul, was not a letter and was not to the Hebrews. Yet, it was only in 1906 that our Church finally accepted that it was not written by Paul and it was you, Joe, who informed me of that fact three or four years ago. Why did it take so long!!?
    I must say I now find Hebrews a seriously dodgy document so much so that I now find it hard to listen when readings from it are part of the Liturgy of the Word during Mass. It will certainly not be part of the Liturgy of the Word in my funeral Mass Order of Service!!
    Of course, the mystery writer is the most polished and sophisticated writer in all of the NT using parts of speech and words not found anywhere else in the NT even beginning with a flourish of alliterated words. But his theology is the most eccentric in claiming that Jesus was a priest in the line of Melchizedek, this minor figure from the Old Testament.
    Perhaps of all the fallacies scholars have found in Hebrews the most silly is the so called Loins Fallacy. Even though he is intent on creating a new line of priesthood for Jesus apart from the Levitical lineage, the author still wants to keep his options open. He does this by suggesting that when Abraham had that chance meeting with Melchizedek in Genesis 14 and Abraham offered Melchizedek a tithe, Levi was also offering that tithe as Abraham was Levi’s great, great grandfather — I think — and, so, the contention is that Levi’s seed was, somehow, already in Abraham’s loins. Craig Koester has suggested that this may, in fact, be an attempt at exaggerated humour. Well, it certainly is hilarious!
    And, then there are the “strained parallels” which scripture scholars have also identified, where he sees a certain similarity which he grasps and runs with but fails to see where it might eventually lead him. One example being the Crucifixion of Jesus outside the city and the disposal of the remnants of the animal carcass in the Jewish sacrificial ritual outside the camp, seemingly missing the point that one was sacred and the other was not. Luke Timothy Johnston speaks of carelessness on the author’s part. Myles Bourke calls them crippling difficulties in Hebrews.
    And, then of course there is his introduction of the idea of Jesus being a priest in the line of Melchizedek and the elevation of human sacrifice. Cultural historians have held that the change from human sacrifice to animal sacrifice was, in fact, a sign of a more enlightened civilization, and understandably so. Has anyone other than the author of Hebrews ever disagreed with that?
    But leaving that aside, there are serious problems with the idea of Melchizedek’s line of priesthood. Experts on this issue such as Fred Horton — author of The Melchizedek Tradition — suggests that those lines in Genesis Chap. 14 are in fact an implant, “intrusion”, is I think, the word Prof. Horton uses as there is nothing in the verses preceding that fleeting mention of Melchizedek and nothing in the verses that follow that is relevant to those three verses, 18-20, where he is mentioned. Scholars, in fact, now question all of Chap. 14 as it appears to show no sign of the work of the primary sources of Genesis.
    In fairness to this unknown author he did not think he was writing for the ages, composing a canon of sacred scripture. According to, once again, Raymond Brown and John Meier, he was simply trying to rally a group of second generation Christians in Rome who were “backsliding”, I think is the word he uses. They were reverting back to the security of God’s promises to Moses. Raymond Brown, as I am sure you know, Joe, identifies four groups with graded commitment to the new tradition of faith vis-à-vis the old Pact.
    And, also, it has to be said that Hebrews does not suggest a new line of priesthood that would follow Jesus. Rather Jesus is a one off, the one and only, and the final sacrifice which would make all other priesthoods redundant. But it has not worked out quite like that!
    It was only after Hebrews introduced this new idea of Jesus as priest that other aspects of Jewish practice could make their way into Christian tradition such as the idea of a continuing line of priests.
    So much is built on Hebrews and Melchizedek and it is very difficult now to argue that those foundations are, in fact, sound.
    Seán@ ?? where you say :
    “……And yet again I complain about the inability of clergy to see and explain the complete transformation of the meaning of sacrifice that Jesus achieves in the Gospel account.
    Has anyone ever heard, in a homily, a clear explanation of what Jesus could have meant in Matthew 9:13 in telling the Pharisees to read Hosea 6:6 ‘I desire mercy not sacrifice. …….’
    If God the Father does NOT desire sacrifice, …….”
    Ever since I can remember thinking seriously about this I have always had a problem with the idea of Jesus having to offer himself to suffer this awful death on a cross to appease his wrathful Father’s anger. And, no matter how we may try and dress it up now, that was the teaching. And, why was there this great anger? Because of the sin of our ancient, probably mythical, ancestors which was transmitted through the generations to us who came to share in this guilt. And, so, Jesus had to die to save us. Was it Augustine who invented the idea of original sin which was, of course, all about sex? This always brings to mind Oliver J and his famous, never to be forgotten, performance on the Late, Late Show.
    Seán, I don’t understand “the complete transformation of the meaning of sacrifice that Jesus achieves in the Gospel account” I accept that you probably have a much greater understanding of all this than I have.
    However, Peter Abelard’s words sum up very well my own belief. He said:
    “It seems extremely cruel and evil to demand the death of a person without guilt as a form of ransom, or that one could take pleasure in the death of a guiltless one – and even more for God to accept his own Son’s death as the means of returning all the world to his esteem.”
    Before I discovered Peter Abelard, I had already read in Joseph Fitzmyer’s Romans that “Paul never says that Jesus was sacrificed for our sake. That notion enters the later theological tradition …”
    I have already referred to this on a few occasions here. I found it so reassuring when I first read it and to find confirmation that my own doubts were reasonably well founded. People of our ilk are so keen to believe what the Church tells us we should believe.

  2. Joe O'Leary says:

    Hi, Paddy, better late than never! Your take-down of Hebrews is pretty devastating, but it might be equally easy to find nonsensical modes of reasoning in any part of Scripture or in allegorical exegetes in the line of Origen. Paul’s treatment of Abraham, Isaac, etc. in Galatians and Romans is hardly less fanciful than Hebrews, and of course Rabbinic lore is full of such wild exegesis. That just seems to have been the way people thought back then. Jesus himself in the Gospels has quite a lot of unexpected readings of Old Testament tales, not to mention Matthew’s wild prophecy-fulfilment remarks (‘He shall be called a Nazarene,’ ‘Out of Egypt have I called my son’, etc.). As to the Apocalypse….

    Basically I think it is unprofitable to carp at the free and easy exegesis used in Scripture at the risk of missing the main point (in which alone the claimed ‘inerrancy’ of Scripture is located).

    The alternation between theological argument and impassioned moral exhortation throughout Hebrews gives the text a captivating swing. Some of the theology is just terrific. The divinity of Christ is magnificently evoked at the start despite the argumentation about angels, the Incarnation likewise a little further on, the saving significance of the Cross again emerges beautifully, and the praise of Faith and its heroes has inspired Christians for two thousand years.

    The oddities that the critics you quote pounce on challenge us to understand the mental world of the author and the community he came from. This is quite fun, and need not be pursued in the condescending matter of exegetes who always ‘know better’. But we do not have to worry about such matters straight away. As heard in church, Hebrews does not bother us with these iffy speculations but directs us to the one thing needful.

    If the sacerdotalism of Christian ministry has been a bad thing, it is hard to see why Hebrews should be blamed. The only priesthood Hebrews recognizes is that of Christ and he never tells us of humans sharing that priesthood.

    Fitzmyer’s denial that Paul taught that Jesus was sacrificed for the sins of the world does not make much sense. How does he account for such declarations as this?: Romans 8:3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

  3. Paddy Ferry says:

    Joe,@2, thank you for such an excellent and well thought out — as always — response to my serious concerns about Hebrews and the origins of our tradition of priesthood. However, my serious concerns remain.

  4. Sean O’Conaill says:

    It’s good, Paddy, to resume this here at last.

    Re. the difficulty over Luke 22: 20 : “This cup is the new covenant in my blood poured out for you” – and my earlier reference to ‘a complete transformation of sacrifice’.

    Long before Rene Girard there were Christians who insisted that Jesus was non-violent, an advocate of ‘suffering’ – i.e. of putting up with the violence of others rather than reciprocating – and that teaching is quite explicit in ‘turn the other cheek’. Yet maybe we need Girard now to unpack ‘sacrifice’ fully as a Christian concept.

    For me now the transition from a priesthood of ‘evasion’ – i.e. of the shedding of the blood of someone other than oneself – to the non-violent offering of oneself in service of, or defence of, others – is the clear trajectory of the biblical accounts.

    Never have I heard a priest point out the obvious stark difference between what Jesus did at the Passover in Jerusalem and what Abraham was on the point of doing to Isaac, but Girard makes that difference crystal clear.

    Is anyone else persuaded now of Girard’s contention that the Gospel clearly illustrates the time-honoured political practice of scapegoating?

    That the powerful commonly combine at any time of crisis to blame some powerless individual or minority for ‘all that’s wrong’ – and then to expel or exterminate those victims – happens over and over again in the historical record. Even following the holocaust of Jews and other minorities during WWII by the Nazis there was the pact between Churchill and Stalin at Yalta in 1945 which led to the handing over of thousands of ‘White’ Russians (those who had opposed the ‘Reds’, the Bolsheviks from 1917 and then allied with Germany in WWII) by the allies to Stalin’s machine gunners. To read any detailed eye-witness accounts of that handover – which included women, children and infants – is to be turned to cold stone.

    See e.g.:

    Yet Girard’s related proposal – that the archaic and universal practice of ritual sacrifice actually originated in and emerged from scapegoating – is even more fascinating. The ‘structure’ of both phenomena – i.e. the many against just one or against a weaker minority – and the intended consequence – the reconciliation of the main actors – is, he points out, the same.

    What’s different of course is that scapegoating events are one-off events that are not predictable and a matter of regular routine in the way that religious rituals are. Also they are not seen as religious events by the main actors. Pilate, and, to a lesser extent Herod and Caiaphas, are resolving a one-off political problem that is threatening their own status. It is unlikely that they saw the execution of Jesus as a religious event – yet that is what happened, apparently because Jesus ‘ritualised’ what was about to happen to him. This is not conclusive evidence that ritual sacrifice necessarily arose in all cases from prior scapegoating events, but it is fascinating nevertheless.

    So is the fact that in the West we do not now typically practise ritual blood sacrifice.

    However, can we normally expect an ordained Catholic priest to point out that Jesus was not crucified for initiating the Eucharist, the Mass, on Holy Thursday, but for challenging the injustices and hypocrisies of a religious system? Were we ever told that following Jesus could involve doing what Jesus did by way of protesting against religious hypocrisy? Or was it always about attending Mass, even though, for Jesus, that was by far the safest thing he did?

    Even when it came to ‘taking up one’s own cross’, was that ever interpreted in terms of making our own religious elite accountable – or was the (clerical) church not Holy as well as One, Catholic and Apostolic?

    That our own religious elite might be collaborating to conceal the suffering caused by clerical abuse – replicating the scapegoating (the transfer of consequences to someone else) that seems always to accompany all concentrations of power – was never supposed to come to light.

    Nevertheless, from a priesthood of evasion – in which someone other than the main actor, the priest, is made to bleed and suffer – to a priesthood in which the priest is also the victim who suffers and accepts the consequences of the sins of others: that is the extraordinary transition that occurs in the scriptural record.

    And so our own priesthood-of-the-ritual has suddenly lost social status, and power, as the real sufferings of victims of clerical abuse – children and women – come to light.

    So why are we still thinking it’s all about whoever ‘says Mass’ – when what made Jesus a Christian priest was not the easy bit, the performance of a ritual, but the challenging of abusive power, in solidarity with those who suffer? To see this is to wonder if we need to completely revise our understanding of ‘the church’, and to relativise the gatherings of prestigious clerics, such as the universal Vatican synod of October 2023.

    After nearly four decades of revelation of cover-up, globally, have our bishops made themselves directly accountable yet?

    1. Sean O'Conaill says:

      Just days after this submitting this comment I received a copy of an Appendix to the Irish National Synodal Synthesis – a submission by a group of those who experienced abuse within a church context.

      This includes the following sentence in its conclusion:

      Lying to survivors, manipulating them and sacrificing them to the greater good of the Church must cease. In its place must come humility and recognition of survivors as people who are precious in the eyes of God.

  5. Paddy Ferry says:

    Thanks, Sean for your excellent analysis @4.

    I wonder have you read The Last Week by Marcus Borg and, the Nenagh man, John Dominic Crossan. It is a excellent book and helped me in my understanding of why Jesus had to die.

    “Lying to survivors, manipulating them and sacrificing them to the greater good of the Church must cease. In its place must come humility and recognition of survivors as people who are precious in the eyes of God.“

    Surely that has now ceased.

    It was so outrageous, shocking, in fact, that at the Redress Board hearings the religious orders, having already inflicted such unspeakable cruelty and pain on some of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable children, then hired the most expensive legal firm in the country to undermine and attempt to humiliate further those very survivors whom they had so abused as children.

    Michael O’Brien summed it up with his cri de coeur on Questions and Answers “five highly paid lawyers trying to make a liar of me….”
    Yet there were attempts on this very site to discredit Michael. Shameful!!

  6. Sean O'Conaill says:

    Thanks, Paddy, for that referral to ‘The Last Week’. Those two scholars (Crossan and Borg) strengthen the case for regarding Jesus’s teaching on the Kingdom of God as both anti-imperialist and non-violent, and therefore for completely exonerating the Father in whom he believed from any hint of support for violent sacrifice. We do not need ‘satisfactionism’ to explain the death of Jesus, as the emphasis of the Gospels is on the imperishability of the Loving Truth that Jesus embodied, and therefore upon our own liberation from fear of death when terror is deployed to intimidate and shame us by the tyrants of this world.

    Acquiescence in the Constantinian lie – that the kingdom of God could be defended and expanded by military conquest after 312 – necessarily obscured the ‘New Creation’ that Paul proclaimed. And so, eventually, a new explanation for the crucifixion was needed by ‘Christendom’ – one that would explain Jesus’s submission to crucifixion in terms other than a determined commitment to non-violence. Instead he was ‘ransoming’ us from a debt to God incurred by our ongoing sins.

    That the ‘ransom’ referred to by Jesus in Mark’s Gospel was in fact the ‘tribute’ imposed by the imperialism of the ancient world – and is therefore to be understood as the price of our liberation from fear of all tyranny in all time – got lost. This set the scene for the blasphemy of Christian imperialism and enslavement in the modern era – including, latterly, the Putinesque variety.

    Without facing up to and admitting that mistake of Christian imperialism how could Christian faith formation in Ireland have any hope of addressing the objections of the secular Enlightenment? This is far more than an Irish problem, but our history – especially our experience of British Christian imperialism – positions us to do all over again what our early saints did following the collapse of the Roman empire: embody a Christianity that is pacifically anti-imperial and now fully awake to the Constantinian lie, the original fount of all Christian historical scandals.

  7. Paddy Ferry says:

    Joe, I hope you will be pleased to know that I was thinking about you at Mass today.

    We had a reading from Hebrews for the second reading ( 12:5-7, 11-13).

    Now, given the wee bit of knowledge that I have recently acquired about Hebrews I can usually just let it wash over me and I can remain largely unaffected by it. However, today I became seriously irritated.

    Of course, it was all about lauding the joys and benefits of “punishment”.

    “Suffering is part of your training; God is treating you as his sons. ……..Of course, punishment is most painful at the time, and far from pleasant, but later, in those in whom it has been used, it bears fruit in peace and goodness.” Bunkum, absolute bunkum!!

    Any decent child psychologist will confirm that controlling punishment of a child can have detrimental, long-term effects. And, also, of course, it proves that violence is acceptable and works.

    And, it didn’t end there.

    “So, hold up your limp arms and steady your trembling knees and smooth out the path you tread; there the injured limb will not be wrenched, it will grow strong again”.

    I think we would have real problems finding a clinical physician or surgeon who would advocate that. Total, total nonsense!!

    I came home, and my wife Fiona, who is a counselling psychologist, asked me why do I put myself through this.
    Well, when Mass was over I brought Holy Communion to two house-bound parishioners and that made a real difference today to their lives.
    I suppose that is one reason I put myself through it. My parish priest told me that I had to accept as it is the word of God.

    After Mass I asked four friends over tea and coffee what they thought of it. They didn’t know what I was talking about. They hadn’t been listening. Is that the best way forward??

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